Comics Interviews

INTERVIEW: Alex Hahn, Creator of The Cruffin & Muffnut

Written by Connor Filsell

The Cruffin and Muffnut is a unique story of bizzare food hybrids in a love story of the ages. This strange and lovable story is brought to us by Alex Hahn, creator and artist extraordinaire. We’ve had the chance to talk to him about Cruffin and Muffnut’s origins, as well as what lies ahead for him as well as his creations…

AP2HYC: Could you try to summarise your comic in a few sentences for our readers?

Hahn: The Cruffin and Muffnut is a story of unrequited love. Muffnut is a Frankenstein’s monster-looking fusion of muffin and doughnut, who wears his heart on his sleeve and just wants to be loved. The devilish little Cruffin, however, does not… and that’s where things get interesting!

AP2HYC: So where did the idea of Cruffin & Muffnut originate from?

Hahn: It all began with a simple in-joke with my colleagues, back when I was working at Starbucks. We had just started selling the “Duffin”: a muffin shaped doughnut, that tasted more like a Victoria sponge and diabetes. We all found the name crap but funny, so I drew Muffnut as a parody, then invented several hybrid muffin characters that I published in a little zine called That takes the cake!. The Cruffin was in there too, but she was originally created for a French colleague’s birthday, that was around the same time.

Several months later I asked that same colleague out, but – as you can probably guess – she wasn’t interested. I often turn to comics to get over bad news, like my autobiographical series (www.postconatus.com), but the details would only lend themselves to maybe a few pages of story, and not really capture what I was feeling in an original way. So I made a few cartoons of Muffnut going through those same feelings. Without intending it, these stories quickly became quite autobiographical. Once I had around ten of these scenes, feeling plenty more coming, I then though of them as becoming the book!

It was quite freeing to be able to do work that was autobiographical, but also go very cartoony and metaphorical; obviously the scene where Muffnut takes a bullet is a metaphor, for example.

We’re still friends and she has a copy of the book, I still draw Cruffins for her birthday!

AP2HYC: Were you much of a comic book fan growing up? What titles did you read or are reading now?

Hahn: The amount of comics I read varied quite a lot, though I always knew I wanted to make them! It was really the 90s X-Men cartoon that caught my imagination. I started to collect some of the Marvel UK reprints, I was also really into Peanuts too.

Then I remember just not reading much, even though I was still regularly getting X-Men and Spider-Man books. Towards the end of school, I began falling in love with comics again (it was J Michael Straczynski‘s run of Spider-Man, drawn by John Romita Jr) and I was reading everything Marvel… though I soon tired of how their event series spewed over into all their books, disrupting interesting stories just to tie all the titles in with the big story.

I branched out, initially with books like Sandman, Sin City and Watchmen. When I started university was the perfect time to discover underground comix and a much richer and varied universe of stories and artwork. That first year I finally read Maus, Black Hole and many anthologies. I was hooked on artists like; Jeffrey BrownSethChester BrownDaniel Clowes et al. At the same time, I was also discovering how interesting children’s books actually are, so my bookshelf would be very eclectic: I might have Robert Crumb next to Oliver Jeffers.

Right now, I’m reaching the end of The Complete Peanuts (the series Seth designed) and I’m starting to collect Luke Pearson‘s Hilda books.

AP2HYC: What artists helped to influence your style?

Hahn: I admire a lot of different artists, ranging from detailed or impossibly precise work by James Jean and Charles Burns to the simple and less “finished” styles of Jeffrey Brown or Art Spiegelman‘s artwork in Maus. I do think seeing the latter end of the scale helped me to loosen up and experiment more – my Post Conatus series is drawn with sticks and ink!

There’s a brilliant economy and simplicity in Charles Schulz‘s work, more recently Tom Gauld‘s comics, that I’ve been aiming for. Jean Jullien is another more contemporary illustrator, who uses quickly drawn, thick brush lines to wonderful effect, the way I draw Muffnut is as close as I can get to this spontaneous style… but if I try to draw people the same way they look terrible, so I’m limited to anthropomorphised cakes.

AP2HYC: I noticed on your website that you self-publish your content. What made you decide to take this route and how has it impacted you in getting your content to the masses?

Hahn: I started self-publishing during my first year at Cambridge School of Art; I really enjoyed bookbinding and making the publications, so it felt natural to make and release books myself. So far my audience is limited to the people who sell books at fairs (like MCM, Thought Bubble, Bristol Comic and Zine Fair etc.) and people who stumble across my Etsy store or the few stores that carry some of my titles, like Gosh!, in London.

I’m always pleased with the general reception my books get at fairs, and a zine of mine, Space Race, recently made the shortlist for the World Illustration Awards, so I’m going to stick with self-publishing. I do have plans to take my Masters project – a 150 page graphic biography of my Grandfather – around publishers when I graduate next year.

AP2HYC: What helped you to set the humour in the story? And how long did you spend on all the food puns?

Hahn: My general approach to life is to see the funny side in things; there might not be a bright side but there’s almost always an irony or black comedy to every situation, which I’ve explored for years in Post Conatus. I’ve been a constant fan of South Park, but I couldn’t really say whether it influenced or chimed with my sense of humour, maybe “encouraged”?

I love wordplay, which is something that quickly entered my autobiographical comics, almost every strip is titled with a pun relating to its story. The food puns?… Piece of cake!

AP2HYC: What is next for you and these characters? Any new ideas or teasers you can give us?

Hahn: Alongside my MA work, I have several books in the works including a new collection of Post Conatus and a 32-page story with Blop (a bumbling Martian, I’ve included in many of my books).

I’ve been drawing the first few pages of the next muffin story too; it’s going to be based on the old “Love is…” cartoons, called “Muff is… “, with each page illustrating an aspect of unrequited love. Muffnut returns to have his feelings stomped on again by the Cruffin and two new characters: Bananuffin and Vampiffin.

AP2HYC: What did you think of our review piece, was it what you expected?

Hahn: I was pleasantly surprised; you succinctly summed up the charm and humour I hoped the book would have. This is one of my most divisive books at fairs: some customers flick through it, laugh and tell me how cute the characters are and “just have to buy it”, others put it down quickly and look at me like i’m standing there in a straight-jacket. It’s left a couple of feminists disappointed too, but that’s a different story.

I’m interested in how the fragmented narrative comes across. Like my Post Conatus series, the story formed itself organically, in an additive process, but I can see how it leaves more to be inferred between the scenes.

I’ve always been drawn towards comics that use words sparingly (probably from reading too many early Marvel comics, where text heavy pages sometimes consumes the art and take you out of the story) and will usually try to make a sequence work without words as much as possible. I did consider using a system of captions to give dates or times to put each scene into context, but I wanted to distance it a little from my autobiographical stories that are all dated precisely.

Thank you for speaking with us Alex, and we wish you all the best in your future projects. If you want to experience The Cruffin and Muffnut for yourself, or wish to see what else Alex has created, don’t forget to check out his content here!

About the author

Connor Filsell